Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fake Problems - 'It's Great to Be Alive'

Released in 2007, Fake Problems' full-length debut How Far Our Bodies Go was an infectious folk-punk/Southern rock hybrid jam-packed with witty asides and howling passion. Bodies’ 2009 follow-up, It’s Great to Be Alive, asks the question, “What if we just did the same thing, but bigger? Like Jerry Bruckheimer bigger?” The result is questionable.

It’s Great to Be Alive follows How Far Our Bodies Go’s playbook by opening with a quick mission statement, with “1 2 3 4” replacing “How Far Our Bodies Go.” Instead of singing about scraping by and fucking up (my favorite punk rock topics besides, like, unity and stuff), Alive seems set on detailing raunchy raunchiness and bewitching women. Oh, and cramming as many instruments in as possible. Here’s a list: guitar, banjo, organ, piano, synth, dobro, mandolin, glockenspiel, vibraslap, bass, violin, drums, marching snare (cause a kit’s snare just won’t do!), trombone, flute, baritone saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, cello, mellotron, trumpet, and of course trumpets. The result: It’s Great to Be Alive feels fucking cramped.

Another hindrance is the core songwriting. Frontman Chris Farren has flirted with bar band cock rock before (Check the kitschy ode to Evel Knievel “How Do You Spell Hero (E-V-E-L)?”), but he goes too deep here. There’s so much clumsy sex/religion imagery (and glockenspiel) it’s like a younger Meatloaf. When Farren runs out of hackneyed things to say, he settles for that old rock ‘n’ roll staple, the non-word. Such Little Richard-esque non-words presented here include “doo doot doot doo doo” and “a-doot doot doot doot doo-doo.” It’s no "womp-bomp-a-loom-op-a-womp-bam-boom," but whatever.

Beneath its superfluous layers, It’s Great to Be Alive’s biggest fault is its homogeny. Sure, the band explores disco punk on songs like “Diamond Rings” and “You’re a Serpent, You’re a She-Snake” and gets their most thrillingly epic (and even romantic) on closer “Heart BPM.” And “The Dream Team” is an incredible Ramones-y cut. But for the most part, It’s Great to Be Alive sounds like overproduced versions of Fake Problems songs I like. And there’s little point in playing approximations when I can just put on the real thing. Which is funny, since Farren straight up says “I hate repeating myself release after release” on “Level With the Devil.” I guess hating it doesn’t stop him from doing it. Fake Problems is a fantastic live band, one of my current favorites, so maybe this new material will win me over once it sheds its strings. For the time being, though, I’ll have to settle for hoping this is a mere sophomore slump and that LP #3 will be better.

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